Just Stuff

I wish you could smell my house right now. It’s a rainy and windy Friday night, so we’ve lit the fire – some logs, some briquettes – and are settled in for the duration.  I’ve also just popped a tray of *Blackberry Pie Bars into the oven, so the aroma of wild berries, Irish butter and a hint of cinnamon is also wafting around the place.

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Our blackberries ripening, just a week or two ago.

*As for the bars – I will include the recipe at the end, so if you’re just here for the food, by all means, belt away and skip the rest. I’ve found in my own blog-reading that I often get annoyed with long posts on cooking blogs when all I want to know is the recipe. For the rest of you who are here to read “on purpose,” continue.

I have not done a lot of baking this summer, even though I’ve had plenty of time. Why? Well, mainly because my baking things haven’t arrived from the States yet. Yup, you heard me correctly. We shipped our worldly goods on the 9th of May and the container has yet to arrive. Of course, I think the kids have felt it the most – all our hollow promises of “your toys will be here in just a few more days” have been especially painful. We didn’t lie, though – we’ve been put off for weeks and weeks, ignored, exasperated each time someone fails to communicate that there has been yet another delay… the ship is still in San Francisco, now in New York, now Liverpool, now South Africa, now Belfast, now it’s stuck in customs… Ugh. Nearly 15 weeks, when we were promised 6 – 8. Ugh!

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But really, it’s just stuff, right? Material things shouldn’t matter that much. We have pared down hugely from move to move, so there’s not that much to begin with. Obviously, the health and well being of our family are most important. Plus, it’s been a lovely, sunny summer here, with plenty to explore outside. When it rains, we have a TV and a local library and a bunch of empty Ikea boxes in the corner for the kids to make forts out of. We’re also lucky in that most rental homes in Ireland come fully furnished, so we have only had to buy a mattress, a desk, some bookcases and a few rugs.

And yet, the “stuff” is important. To anyone else, it would look like boxes of books, toys, kitchen stuff, Christmas decorations and two or three small bits of furniture. A couple of bikes are in there, and a guitar. Lots of framed things were squeezed into the narrow spots, and a fishing pole snuck its way in, too. If all this was in an episode of “Storage Wars,” the winning bidder would be most disappointed. But for us, these are the little touch points from our lives together, and even our lives before we were a family. Seeing the pictures on the wall and the covers on the bed make it feel like home, our home. And we seem to be talking about “home” a lot these days.

In the end, our “stuff” will get here. The latest promise is for this coming Tuesday morning. We’ll be fine until then, the kids have managed so far and it’s given us endless conversations with them, almost like a game of “what can you remember that will be coming on the ship?” I know Frank is anxious to have his iMac, and has prepared his office almost as lovingly as a parent sets up a nursery. As for my cooking stuff… well, I’ve had to buy a few things to get by, a couple pots, a pan, some knives. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about baking over the years, it’s that precision really does help. That’s why I’m missing my scales for the Irish/UK recipes and my cups for the USA recipes. (If you ever see a UK recipe using cups, beware, imperial cups are larger than the ones used in the States! It will mess up everything!)

Fresh and oozing from the oven.

In the meantime, it would be a crying shame to let the buckets full of wild blackberries I’ve been picking go to waste. I’ve made a few Blackberry Apple Crisps from memory and a pretty delicious Blackberry Soaked Cake I saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall whip up on an episode of River Cottage. But tonight, I tried a half-size version of this recipe from “The Novice Chef” and it turned out to be a winner! I’ve definitely had my share of tart, seedy blackberries over the years, the kind you wouldn’t eat on their own. This year’s crop has definitely been plump and sweet enough to eat while picking, but I’m still a sucker for a good pie/bar recipe.

Blackberry Pie Bars

1 1/2 Cups (US) all purpose flour
1/2 Cup (US) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
1/2 Cup (113 grams) cold unsalted Irish butter
1 medium organic free-range egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 Cups (US) fresh or frozen blackberries
1/4 Cup (US) white sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch (cornflour)
Zest and juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C. Grease an 8×8 square pan.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together. Cut in the cold butter until the mix resembles fine crumbs, then mix in the egg and vanilla. This can also be done in a food processor, but do not overwork. Press 2/3 of the mix into the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, stir the lemon juice, zest, remaining sugar and cornstarch together, then gently add the berries and combine. Pour the berry mix on top of the crust mix and crumble the remaining crust mix over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes or until just golden on top. Cool before slicing (If you can wait! Obviously I can’t!).

Frank likes his with custard. Why not?

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